Caring for a loved one is an activity that takes place outside the workplace, but its impact inside the workplace can be significant, if often overlooked. The majority of those caring for a loved one are employed, and the impact of their care commitment on their workplace productivity is usually underestimated.
MetLife, in a 2010 study in conjunction with AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, estimates that lost productivity in the workplace as a result of caregiving costs businesses approximately $33 billion a year. Lost productivity can come in the form of tardiness, leaving early from work, or even in the case of some employees, rejecting promotions that would force a caregiver to move far away from elderly parents.
“Providing care for a family member is an act of kindness and love,” said Annette Kolski-Andreaco, manager of account services for LifeSolutions, an employee assistance program (EAP) that is part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. “And with increased life expectancies due to medical advances, the need for caregivers will continue to rise.”
Smart Business spoke with Kolski-Andreaco about the impact caregiving has on the workplace and on employees, as well as what employers should know about it.
What is the extent of the impact of caregiving in the workplace?
There is a hidden cost for employers when it comes to caregiving. An employer has to understand that employees are managing difficult life challenges at different stages in their lives. Employers tend to be more aware of some of these challenges, such as marriage, childbirth, day care and the responsibility of school-age children. But employers don’t think as much about the challenges their employees face later in life. And, yet, these are challenges that employers should focus on because the working population is getting older as people continue to live longer and also want to stay in the workplace longer.
What does this mean? For employers, there is likely to be a large cohort of their employees who have increased caregiving responsibilities for elderly parents and other elderly loved ones. In today’s workplace environment, we have an older working population caring for an even older age group, and that is a significant hidden cost.
How extensive is the issue for employers?
An estimated 17 percent of full-time workers are also caregivers, and nearly one-third of all working caregivers are in a professional position. According to a Caregiving in America study, more than 73 percent of caregivers were employed at some time during their caregiving.
That is significant because the study also showed that 66 percent of employed caregivers have gone in to work late, left early or taken off time during the day to deal with caregiving issues. Also, 20 percent of employed caregivers have reported taking leaves of absence as a result of their duties.
In general, it is estimated that caregivers miss an average of 6.6 workdays per year as a result of caregiving activities. A majority of caregivers believe that caregiving has some impact on their work performance.
Is there a physical toll on caregivers?
Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Alliance for Caregiving showed that 17 percent of women over the age of 50 who are caregivers reported fair or poor health, about double the rate for other women in that age group. Similar results were evident among younger male and female caregivers, ages 40 to 49, who also reported poorer health.
The medical conditions for which caregivers are at increased risk include diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, pulmonary disease, heart disease, kidney disease and depression.
Caregivers are under a great deal of stress, which can cause a number of physical problems such as muscle tension, impaired immune system function, increased blood pressure, sleep difficulties and a lack of exercise. Essentially, the caregiver is at extreme risk healthwise. To compound the issue, when the caregiver’s health is compromised, the care receiver is put at increased risk.
What other impact is there on the workplace?
The stress felt by caregivers can adversely affect their job performance. Employees who are also caregivers are tired, distracted by worries and have less mental energy at times. This is an issue that employers need to recognize and address.
What can an employer do to help employees deal with caregiving issues?
In general, employees who are caregivers need some flexibility, if it is possible for the employer to grant it. Offering flexibility in terms of schedules, leave time, etc., and support from the workplace can help them deal with these difficult issues.
There also needs to be increased awareness of the caregiving issue and its potential impact on a work force. A company’s human resources department could provide information about helpful community resources, for example. Remember, for most employees, caregiving is a new experience and they need help in knowing where to turn for assistance.
If an employer has an EAP, it should be promoted as a source of support, information and referral to resources. EAPs also provide emotional and practical solutions to problems and can be a source of information about the legal implications and financial repercussions of caregiving.
ANNETTE KOLSKI-ANDREACO is manager of account services for LifeSolutions, part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (412) 647-8728.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan